To summit Mount Kilimanjaro is an incredible experience. People travel far across the globe to trek Kilimanjaro and many thousands successfully reach the Roof of Africa every year. But it is by no means an easy feat.
Proper preparation is essential for a successful summit.
We’ve asked Mark Whitman, author of Mount Kilimanjaro: Trekkers Guide to the Summit and the popular blogs, climbkilimanjaroguide.com and Mountain IQ, to share his top tips. If you are interested in joining our Kilimanjaro Trek, check out the details here.
So you are planning to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, that’s awesome. Here are 7 things I tell all trekkers before they depart for Tanzania.
You don’t need to be a super fit athlete
While Kilimanjaro is a difficult trek, it is important to know that you can do it with an average level of fitness.
You should however be in good health.
The trek is strenuous. You will be on your feet covering tough terrain for 5 to 7 hours each day (summit night is even longer!).
The best preparation is to undertake practice hikes and long walks. This is a great way to build your stamina, improve your fitness level and get ready to take on Kilimanjaro.
If you do not have time to go walking or hiking, then you should try to hit the gym for running or cycling sessions 3-4 times a week, starting at least 3 months before the hike. Aerobic and cardiovascular exercises are great, but some strength training for your legs and shoulders is also a good idea.
Having a good level of fitness will allow you to enjoy the walk more and prepare you for the summit, which is the most difficult part of the trek.
Clothing and gear requirements
It is very important to have the right equipment with you when you take on Mount Kilimanjaro.
First and foremost, it is essential to pack clothing that you can layer to keep yourself warm and comfortable. Thermal base layers, a fleece layer, an insulated jacket and an outer, waterproof layer are very important. You should also invest in warm gloves, a thermal pair of socks and a warm beanie. Your extremities are the first to feel the cold, so protecting your fingers, toes, ears and nose on summit night will make the trek much more enjoyable.
In addition to the essential clothing items, you should also get a good pair of hiking boots. You will need a strong, durable pair with ankle support. Your feet are what get you to the top of Kilimanjaro so make sure you wear in your boots before the trek.
There is nothing worse than having uncomfortable, badly fitted boots that lead to painful blisters.
Many people use trekking poles on Kilimanjaro. Trekking poles can help keep you balanced, especially on the descent, and take some of the pressure off your knees and ankles.
Finally, a warm four-season sleeping bag is an absolute must. Temperatures at night and in the early hours of the morning can drop below zero degrees Celsius. Make sure you are comfortable and warm at night. You will need to get plenty of rest each night to summit Kilimanjaro.
You can climb Kilimanjaro at any time of the year but there are two preferred trekking seasons – January through to March, and June through to October.
The weather is colder from January to March and there is a good chance that you will find snow on the summit. That being said, snow near and on the summit is possible all year round.
The earlier trekking season is generally quieter than the June-October months so you will find less people on the trails.
The wettest months are March, April and November so it is best to avoid doing the trek during these months, as the conditions are not ideal for trekking.
Guides and porters
The guides and porters on Kilimanjaro are critical to a successful trek. Every trekking party consists of a porter team that is tasked with carrying all the gear required for camping (i.e. tents, mess tents, chairs, tables, cooking supplies, food, water, etc.). They also carry each trekker’s main gear bag.
Porters setup and break camp every day. These guys (and girls) are super human and you will develop a deep level of respect for them by the end of day 1!
Heading the porter team and ensuring the safety of all trekkers are the guides. Most guides on Kilimanjaro have 100s of summits under their belt and are therefore very experienced. It is important you listen to your guide’s advice and follow their instructions.
When climbing Kilimanjaro, it is vital that you give your body enough time to acclimatize to the higher altitudes. The air at higher altitude contains less oxygen per breath, so your body needs to acclimatize and adjust by producing more red blood cells to compensate for the lower levels of oxygen.
Symptoms of altitude sickness vary between people, but if you start to feel symptoms like shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, headaches, fatigue or loss of appetite, then be sure to let your guides know so they can help and advise you on how to continue your trek.
Ascending too quickly can result in Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), which can be very dangerous. Severe AMS symptoms include inability to walk, loss of mental capacities, hallucination and fluid build up in the lungs.
To prevent AMS, make sure you drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated (at least 3 litres a day), go slowly and do not exert yourself. The 7 and 8-day routes like the Machame, Lemosho or the Rongai are great as they provide climb high, sleep low opportunities, which help with acclimatisation. They also provide enough time to acclimatize properly.
Food and water
Staying well fed and hydrated is critical to a successful Kilimanjaro trek.
Thankfully your support team will have you fully covered here. Every trekking party will have a dedicated cook who will produce three meals a day. Breakfasts generally consist of porridge, eggs, toast, sausages, and sometimes pancakes. Fruit, spreads, teas and coffees will also be available. Lunch and dinner meals will be varied and tasty. You can expect soups, fried chicken and chips, pasta and stews.
If you have special dietary requirements these can also be catered for as long as you make preparations before the trek.
All you need to do is eat well as you will need all the energy you can get.
For the long hours spent on the trail I recommend bringing energy bars. These are particularly useful on summit night where you will not have any food until you get back to base camp after summiting.
In addition to food it is very important to stay well hydrated. Water will be given to you on the first day and porters will collect more during the climb to replenish supplies. Water is not portable without being purified first. Support teams will boil water before providing it to trekkers, but I always recommend using water purification tablets as well.
You should try to drink at least 3 litres of water every day. Dehydration is one of the most common reasons why people fail to summit Kilimanjaro.
Attitude and determination
Last but not least, having a good attitude and being determined will help you reach the summit.
Kilimanjaro is not an easy hike so there may be points where you will feel like giving up and turning back, but having a positive attitude and taking it one step at a time will get you to the top!
One of the hardest sections of the climb is summit night, so be ready to push yourself to get to the top - it's definitely worth every tough step!
However, be sure not to let your determination stand in the way of your health. If you start to feel sick and experience the symptoms of AMS, make sure you tell your guide and follow their instructions even if it means having to turn around and descend.
There is no way to sugar coat the challenge of trekking Kilimanjaro. It is a real test and will undoubtedly push you beyond your comfort zone. But take comfort in the knowledge that every step along the journey will be worth it! Trekking to the summit of Kilimanjaro is a once in a lifetime experience. Follow the tips above and I guarantee you will have an amazingly memorable time.